Allow me to begin by posing a hypothetical scenario ...
There's this college kid. Highly touted golfer, has been ever since he was competing in professional events as a young teenager.
As bright as his future appears, it's nearly been eclipsed by the present. That's because while still taking a full course load at a prestigious undergraduate program, he's won two tournament titles at the game's most elite level and ascended to a spot amongst the top 20 golfers in the world.
It's something that none of the legends have accomplished. Jack Nicklaus wasn't winning pro events while attending Ohio State; Tiger Woods wasn't racking 'em up at Stanford.
So, what do you think? Pretty impressed by this hypothetical up-and-comer? Would you be ready to declare him the Next Big Thing in golf?
Well, good. Keep those thoughts in mind, because this scenario isn't hypothetical at all.
It's just that he is a she – and her name is Michelle Wie.
References to Wie are often accompanied by thoughts of negative connotations. She was the It Girl who tried to hang with the big boys – and never made the cut. Her victory-to-national television commercial ratio is below the Mendoza Line. She’s been called a bust before she ever had the chance to prove the theory wrong.
With her latest rash of poor performances, Wie isn’t doing much to win fans and influence people.
She has now missed the cut in three consecutive LPGA starts for just the second time in her career and the first time in a half-decade. That statistic is exacerbated by the fact that in the latest tournament in this streak, Wie not only missed the cut at the Lotte Championship, she missed it by a mile after posting scores of 78-76. It’s exacerbated by the fact that it came on her home course, Ko Olina Golf Club. And that she hit her first two drives of the second round into a parking lot. And that a statue inspired by her stands just outside the clubhouse.
It’s one thing to have a bad week. It’s quite another to have that bad week in front of your own statue.
This all comes on the tail of Wie’s recent graduation from Stanford – and it may serve as symbolism for her passage from childhood to a full-time member of the workforce. Gradually, her phenom status has been usurped by Lexi Thompson and it doesn’t help that undisputed No. 1-ranked player and five-time major champion Yani Tseng is just nine months her senior.
For the first time in years, critical comments in regard to Wie’s game are completely justified. She ranks 141st on the LPGA in driving accuracy – second-to-last of those who have hit enough tee shots. She is 109th in greens in regulation percentage. And her putts per round – forever a bugaboo, even when she’s playing well – is currently at 134th on the list.
Armed with that barrage of knowledge, it’s easy for those still on the bandwagon to jump off, and those already off to throw stones as it methodically sputters along like the Little Engine That Could.
I won’t dispute that Wie’s latest performances are cause for concern; in fact, those heavily invested in her future prospects should be downright petrified at what has been a shocking turn of events, especially since it’s taken place at the very time when her focus and attention to the game should be at an all-time high following the conclusion of her collegiate responsibilities.
And yet, I do subscribe to the longstanding assertion which states: “Form is temporary; talent is forever.” Wie’s game most certainly isn’t in top form right now, but she still wields as much innate talent as nearly any female golfer on the planet.
That is why, when proffered with the query as to what her future holds, it’s important to look less at the past month of poor play and more at her body of work as a whole. She is still the same player who won twice while burdened by academic responsibilities, the same player who claimed seven top 10s at major championships before even entering college.
No, Wie may never live up to the hefty expectations placed upon her long ago, but such foresight is often flawed when trying to predict the futures of young athletes.
Instead, she shouldn’t be measured against those expectations, but against her peers. Wie is enduring some potholes on the road to success, but it’s a road on which she’s been cruising down the fast lane since well before she could legally drive.
She has already accomplished more as a part-time professional than many of her fellow competitors will accomplish in a career. The critics are justified for unabashed denunciations of her play of late, but as so often happens in this game, don’t be surprised if talent prevails over form.
Michelle Wie has proven that while she may be lacking in the latter, her overall abilities trump those short-term foibles – even if it takes a not-so-hypothetical scenario to remind us.